Many Internet marketing focused agencies are trying to figure out the best way to position their brand for optimal exposure while adequately communicating what they do. Currently, the agency marketplace is rather fragmented regarding semantic brand recognition. Some of the phrases used to brand agencies and describe services include inbound marketing, earned media, demand generation, social media marketing, search engine optimization, content marketing and Internet optimization.
These semantics are also at the heart of a fiery debate happening right now in the SEO industry. The fact of the matter is that any high-performing agency that brands its services as any of the above is essentially providing the same service as the agencies branded using the other terms. Their primary focus, priorities and KPIs may be a little different or weighted more toward a specific discipline, but the overlap in services is apparent.
It is generally accepted that inbound marketing is the culmination of content marketing, social media marketing, SEO and online public relations. Each discipline, individually, requires the others in order to be optimally successful. For example, in order to do content marketing well, it requires distribution via social media and search engines, among others.
To do social media marketing well requires lots of good content, which should naturally do well in search engines by virtue of Google’s Caffeine update Freshness, while simultaneously serving many PR functions.
Agencies that position themselves as SEO service providers must use content marketing, social media marketing and PR in order to provide good results. Google’s algorithm changes over the last three years or so has solidified this.
Phrases like earned media, demand generation and Internet optimization are all umbrella terms that essentially mean the same thing as inbound marketing. All of which are derived from Seth Godin’s permission marketing, also known as pull marketing.
The other Internet marketing disciplines surrounding paid advertising, like pay per click, retargeting or banner advertising, are not included because they are considered interruption-based, outbound or push marketing. Affiliate marketing is also a separate discipline.
An agency’s customers, from the SMB to the Enterprise, may tell a service provider they want SEO, social media or content marketing, but what they really want is to capture and convert more customers than their competitors, build a positive brand image online and do these things as cost effectively as possible. That's why they're asking for the service in the first place.
Since there’s so much overlap in the disciplines today, agencies can’t do one discipline well without accounting for and leveraging the others. Agencies that focus on one discipline are working in a silo and are forced to rely on others to make its discipline optimally successful. This can be problematic when trying to deliver results because, if content or distribution isn’t deployed by the other silo or silos, it drags down the whole campaign.
There will always be companies that request specific specialized services, such as email marketing, social media marketing and SEO. Agencies can easily position themselves to go after a specific market. However, by doing so, the agency can be typecast, have limited opportunity and less-than-optimal results.
Assuming an agency doesn’t want to be typecast or limit its opportunity, phrases like search engine optimization, social media marketing and content marketing should be eliminated as branding phrases. This leaves phrases like inbound marketing, earned media, demand generation and Internet optimization.
Any of the above phrases would do a good job at adequately describing the breadth of services provided by an agency. Now the question is, which one is the most popular, will be adopted by the industry and recognized by prospects? According to Google, inbound marketing is the most popular, and with thought leaders like Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz and Dharmesh Shah of Hubspot using the term regularly, it’s just a matter of time until it’s adopted by the entire online marketing industry and recognized by all prospects and customers.